Blown to the Stars

Circus (USA) – April 1974

Four years ago, not even Jimi Hendrix could’ve known. Standing onstage at the Isle of Wight, Hendrix pointed down into the stands and dedicated the evening’s final number to a crazed figure radiating weird vibes. “This is for the dude with the silver face and hair”, he drawled. That was both Jimi’s last
performance and the world’s first hint of the coming psychedelic scourge – Hawkwind. The gent with the silver head was Nik Turner, a member in good standing with the cosmic consortium that recently toured the States. Hawkwind was responsible for one of the weirdest press parties New York has ever seen and the worst reviews in history.

“It’s as if they’ve played right into my hands,” gloated Hawkwind manager Doug Smith, recovering in his London townhouse from the American newspaper’s venomous reception. “All they do is create a cult following.” Smith, however, is used to this curiously allergic reaction – it’s been happening for years in England and the Continent. Hawkwind, a five-man, one-woman exercise in out-patient therapy, has been confusing audiences and eliciting comments from “pretentious” to “preposterous” ever since the Isle of Wight incident…

Floating downstream

Before Wight, Hawkwind’s motley blend of psychotics -Dave Brock (guitar and vocals), Nik Turner (flute), Lemmy (bass and vocals), Del Dettmar (synthesizer) and Simon King (drums)- could he seen in the stations of London’s underground, alienating the old and young. These street-singers or “buskers” as they were called, panhandled all day and drove through the countryside by night. One evening they parked their van outside a small concert hall in Notting Hill Gate. Smith produced concerts there and they asked him if he might lend them his hall for a 15 minute set. Doug Smith didn’t actually hear them that night but Britain’s foremost disc jockey, John Peel did observe them bashing about the stage in a cacophony of homemade gear. Smith related, “He said to me, ‘Douglas, these people are freaks, street people… why don’t you do something with them’.” Smith took the buskers under his wing and began floating downstream. Hawkwind soon became the most popular musical commune within London town’s broad spectrum of minorities – skinheads, acidheads and deadheads…

In the spring of ’72 they plastered the city with thousands of stickers proclaiming a party for themselves and friends at the Rainbow. They filled the place with twice the hall’s legal capacity which caused a full scale riot. Then a few months later they released a single; “Silver Machine,” healthy enough in sales to allow the hand to concentrate full time on the Space Ritual, their new LP (on United Artists records).

Space Ritual began to turn the critic’s heads, and United Artists sunk untold thousands into Hawkwind’s American debut. Space Ritual is a series of brilliantly constructed melodies that are obviously the forerunners of 1970’s music. As great a listening treat as the album is, it’s nothing compared to Hawkwind live. The live show begins with an elaborate light presentation by Liquid Len and the Lensmen, and contains effects that have never been seen on the rock stage before. Then a hefty-breasted dancer named Stacia, who one member of the Electric Light Orchestra described as someone “who could put you off sex for years,” joins the band onstage and puts on a show of her own. At the New York Academy of Music the results were overwhelming.

Alice and the riff-raff

In a brilliant stroke of public relations and outer space chic, Hawkwind’s record company had rented out the Planetarium for a midnight bash and champagne breakfast. Those who emerged from the Academy of Music, vital senses intact, made their way up there. Others lay comatose on the streets of Manhattan, gagging on their own saliva. Once inside the museum, famous for star-rubble and dioramas of the solar system, the legitimate press and the riff-raff rubbed elbows with some real luminaries. Alice Cooper swilled bubbly with his girlfriend Cindy Lang. Spencer Davis marvelled at the ruins of some far flung meteorite while Stevie Wonder chatted with Andy Warhol superstar, Holly Woodlawn. Upstairs in the main hall the night sky was projected against the museum’s huge convex ceiling. The announcer spoke of Kohoutek, the comet of the century and there was plenty of tomfoolery among the guests who thwarted the successful projection of the gala Christmas show by lighting hundreds of matches, making it too light for the projector to work. The party was an unqualified smash. There was only one entity conspicuous in its absence: Hawkwind. The band was nowhere to be seen. Aware of the impending critical onslaught, the buskers refused to show their faces. The guests gobbled platefuls of scrambled eggs but little was mentioned of the band. At the end of the night, in fitting tribute to the band’s utter invisibility, four strangers with phony English accents hijacked Hawkwind’s limousine to the Bronx.

In search of an audience

The next morning, Hawkwind’s reviews were not so invisible. The newspapers called their politics dope-fogged and worse, their music, a hype. “A lot of people,” declared Smith “have been incredibly middle class intellectual – looking for something that just isn’t there and never will be.” Smith maintained that though he himself adores the fourth estate, the band does not pander to the press. They are as they started out originally – a people’s group. “The point,” he concluded “is that we have an audience; we’ve just got to go out there and find it.” Which reminds one of their last album: In Search of Space.

-Jonathan Singer

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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